Fab freebies

While I often concentrate on commercial applications, many of the technologies the Internet itself is based on stem from open-source projects. Until recently, many of these free technologies were hard to use.

In this column, I'll take a look at six programs or applets (some of which are on the Cover Disc) that combine decent features with a well-designed user interface. Free WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) Web editors are not as common as text editors. This area of the market is generally served by budget apps that offer more handholding for novices.

Nvu 1.0

Nvu (www.nvu.com or on the Cover Disc of the August 2006 issue of PC World Magazine) is an open-source program - available for Linux, Mac OS and Windows - that was developed from the Mozilla suite - see figure 1. It offers decent scope for both beginners and slightly more experienced designers.

You can switch between WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and code views from within the program. It includes a number of impressive features. Elements such as a CSS (cascading style sheet) editor, markup cleaner and templates are welcome. This application certainly won't cause Adobe to lose much sleep, but its features are superior to other free visual editors such as Mozilla Composer.

AceHTML

If you're confident with code, AceHTML is one of the best free applications - see figure 2. It provides an HTML-syntax checker and, although such checks aren't available for other scripting languages - such as PHP and Javascript - it colour codes them for ease of use.

The program provides a library of 175 Java and DHTML scripts that can be dragged-and-dropped into a page, as well as a style-sheet editor and plenty of graphics. For serious developers, I'd recommend upgrading to the pro version for (about $120), it includes better support for a variety of scripting languages - code completion and syntax checking - and stronger management tools. The freeware release is a strong program, though (< a href="http://software.visicommedia.com/en/products/acehtmlfreeware">http://software.visicommedia.com/en/products/acehtmlfreeware/ or on the Cover Disc of the August 2006 issue of PC World Magazine).

Evrsoft First Page 2006

A solid Web-editing package, First Page 2006 includes support for XML, and scripting languages such as ASP and ColdFusion. It has a fully integrated CSS editor.

The only drawback is that to unlock some of these features you need to upgrade to the Pro version. Nonetheless, the download available from Evrsoft is a highly competent HTML editor (www.evrsoft.com or the Cover Disc of the August 2006 issue of PC World Magazine).

DHTML Menu Generator

One feature that appears on a number of Web sites is a dynamic HTML menu, which can slide into place on your browser, with rollover links. This applet from the Evrsoft developer Web site allows you to set colours for an animated menu and provide entries for links on your site. When you've edited links in your navbar, simply click the Create button and copy code into your page (http://developers.evrsoft.com/toolsdhtml- menu-generator.shtml).

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Visual Web Developer

This nice application is really aimed at advanced developers. There are some limitations to this particular package - mainly based around the fact that, unsurprisingly, it's designed for .NET servers - but it is an extremely powerful package. If you download SQL Server Express as well, you can create sophisticated database-driven sites.

The various tool libraries enable you to create the essentials of a number of Web applications. This is a canny move on the part of Microsoft to take on the popular PHP/MySQL combo and is a good indication of how free software does not necessarily mean a compromise on quality (http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/express/vwd). There are also starter kits like the beta Classifieds kit shown in figure 3.

The Gimp

The Gimp is not a Web design program, but a useful image editor that would be very helpful for anyone who doesn't want to shell out for Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro.

The program is powerful for a cost-free software application, but keep in mind that it is better to use the older, more stable 2.2.1 release rather than more recent iterations. Nonetheless, the Gimp works with a wide variety of formats and includes plenty of useful tools and fi lters. It's just one of many excellent programs on the Web (www.gimp.org or off the Cover Disc of the August 2006 issue of PC World Magazine).

Site of the month

Two of the online resources in this column are available, free of charge, on the Evrsoft Web site for developers.

Here you'll find a whole host of other extremely useful resources, including applets for generating Flashnavigation buttons, sitemaps, Web site rankings and many other useful goodies, as well as articles, tips and tricks for Web design, and scripts and templates for its First Page program. Evrsoft really is an excellent resource, click here to view a screenshot.

Getting started with NVU

Nvu is a fairly sophisticated open-source Web editor, which is highly recommended for those who don't need scripting abilities. As well as a decent site manager, the program includes support for CSS (cascading style sheets). This is now a necessity for any form of modern Web design. When you load Nvu for the first time, it'll launch into default WYSIWYG mode and you can switch between this and source/tag views from the View menu. To insert graphics, links and tables into your page, use the main toolbar at the top of the screen and then the next two bars for more refined formatting.

One feature we highly recommend you use is the built-in CSS editor. To begin setting styles for your site, go to Tools-CSS Editor. Click the Rule button to create a style, enter a name for this style and click the tab you wish to format - for instance, text, backgrounds or borders. In each setting, select a feature - such as a font or colour - and click Close when you've fi nished. The editor will then save any changes you've made automatically.